The past few months have been difficult. Profound, I know. How have things gotten so confused, so laden with division and controversy? The chaos isn’t just permeating the culture, it has infected the Church as well. It has occurred to me that, as the Church, we have landed in this slough, in part, of our own accord. I’m not convinced we were prepared for this onslaught of difficult circumstances.
As easy as it is, and as much as we want to bluster and blame, it is incumbent on us to examine our hearts and our own role in current events. This is an especially important fact for me to consider as a Christian.
The past couple of hundred years has afforded the Western church perhaps the longest period of relative peace in church history. Real, tangible persecution has not touched our lives or the lives even of our grandparents. We have been given opportunity to observe persecution abroad from time to time, but we have largely missed the opportunity to see God at work in it and apply that to our own lives. We have been comfortably distracted to the degree that we perceive any affront to our faith as persecution.
We live in a culture that has descended for the past 150 years from a cooperative society to a society driven by fear. Having worked in advertising in my former life, I can tell you that looking at the advertisements of a culture can give a pretty clear picture of how a culture thinks. In the 19th century we saw a pragmatism and utilitarian lifestyle that preceded and permeated the industrial revolution. People worked hard and supported their neighbours in survival and flourishing. As cultural and social achievements were made and the American Dream started to become a realization for many, cultural attitudes morphed into a society dedicated to “Keepin up with the Joneses”. A culturally driven covetousness that bespoke the brewing discontent in the hearts of people. As the 20th century came to a close, we saw the fruit of this ripened and harvested in the culture and doctrines of self. The "You deserve a break today” mentality that emphasized ease, convenience and your best life now (as long as you’re not hurting anyone else). A culture that has descended to this kind of narcissistic individuality has only one place to go. Fear is the natural outworking of selfish ambition. The social more that elevates self to preeminance, even to the detriment of others has everything to lose and everything to fear. The safest toys, the purest products, the cleanest “If you don’t have our product you’ll die” kind of fear that inflames the heart and drives everyone further apart, guides society directly into the hands of tyrannical leaders. Generally we will confront that fear by submitting whatever we can to remove the fear. Fear becomes the central figure of our lives.
Observing these facts about Western culture should give us pause as the church. How have we met the challenge of our culture. Have we been proactive in taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and applying Biblical truth in the face of cultural philosophies? Have we allowed ourselves to be affected by the subtle evolution of Western culture or confronted it well with the Gospel?
The evidence for us is rooted in how prepared we have been as a church to confront the smorgasbord of mandates and restrictions imposed on society over the past couple of years. We have had more than a century to prepare each generation to confront fear in obedience and submission to God - and yet so much of our time has been spent lulled to sleep by the shiny things and alluring philosophies of the world. It seems we have spent so much time trying to be “relevant” to the world that we ended up as a Petri dish for the world’s philosophies.
The problem we face isn’t the pandemic or even the mandates. The problem we face is applied theology.
We have been given so many opportunities to fear. Fear of the virus, fear of the vaccine, fear of our neighbours, fear of the unvaccinated, fear of oppression, fear of persecution, fear of government, fear of our neighbour, fear of the unmasked, fear of the masked, fear of medicine, fear of doctors, fear of death, fear of racism, fear of truckers. We have achieved a critical mass of fear. And I fear that we’ve given ourselves over to it. In so many ways we have exchanged the Glory of Christ for fear.
The pursuit of self will always result in a spirit of fear and, unchecked, a spirit of fear will always result in division. We’ve seen the division everywhere - even within the church. Division is the fertile soil of tyranny. We live in this culture of fear, but we're not meant to give ourselves over to it.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2
If you’ve been like me and, at times, have allowed fear to become the central figure of your life. Stop, rejoice in Hope, give thanks for hard things and pray incessantly. With Christ as the central figure of my life, the world can burn and I remain in Hope and Joy.